Monday, November 14, 2016

Bye, bye, bye...

I had to fire a volunteer last week. 

It was the first time we were open since election day and they said, in front of clients, some of whom are immigrants, some of whom are undocumented, that now that Trump will be president they need to “go the fuck back to where they came from.”

I’ve never had to dismiss a volunteer.  I’ve had to break up arguments and deal with gossip, but I’ve not yet had to tell anyone not to come to volunteer anymore.  I’ve fired people from paying jobs, but not a volunteer; this felt very different.  I don’t understand the reasoning for volunteering when it doesn’t come from a place of love.  And while I don’t understand it I have seen it.  People volunteer out of greed, a desire for power, and prestige, but none of those things are all that motivating for me so I don’t understand it. 

When I confronted the volunteer to ask if they had said “go the fuck back to where they came from” they got defensive, saying, “I was just talking politics.”  I informed them that as a volunteer they are a representative of our organization and cannot say racist, xenophobic things while acting as a representative of our organization.  I also (again) reminded them that my name is not “hon” but that is another issue.  By the end of the very frustrating conversation I asked the volunteer to leave, and said that they could no longer serve there.

When I told the other volunteers they were all grateful.  That morning I had brought them a bowl of safety pins, explained the symbolism to them, and said they were available for those who were ready to stand up in support of our African American, Muslim, LGBTQ, immigrant, and women neighbors.  Every one of our volunteers took a safety pin, without hesitation or question.  And when another volunteer who is Muslim arrived later that day, she told me that she was very happy to see everyone wearing that symbol of safety, but said that she would need to cover herself in safety pins to actually feel safe. 

I’m proud of our volunteers for serving as examples of radical hospitality.  I think we do a great job of making people feel safe within our walls, but I feel like we need to continue doing more to make them feel safe when we leave.  Of course, most of the people who are reading this will say that organizing is the answer, and sure, that is part of it.  But I also think that we need to simply work to change our culture, to make it not ok to say things that are racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic or otherwise horrible.  We need to (I need to) call people out when they are inappropriate, and interrupt conversations that hurt people.  And we need do everything that we can to support those who do stand up for others. 

Later addition:  I also know that bullying is fueled by attention.  And I agree with and share with our volunteers the methods for supporting the victims and ignoring the bullies.   There is a time for interrupting, and a time to remove attention and diminish the attacker's voice.  It takes practice to know when each is appropriate so I recommend being on alert all the time :)

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

I just don't care

Before we get too far: If you are reading this and want to criticize my understanding of theology or history, be my guest.  I am neither a theologian or historian, just a humble observer with an opinion.  Also, I get that this is historically significant, but this post is about my feelings, not history.

"If only I had an enemy bigger than my apathy I could have won." - Mumford and Son

“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession...Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”     ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I've been hearing stories about the reconciliation of the Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches, and I know that there are a lot of people who are quite happy about it.  But, I'm not.  And it's not that I am angry or offended by it, it's that I just don't care.
Just a photo of me and some other Lutherans at a
protest.  Not really all that related.
I say this as a person who grew up going to a Catholic church and once loved the Catholic faith.  I loved the music, the ritual, and the feeling of something much bigger than me.  As I got older and learned more about other religious traditions, Catholicism seemed somehow less authentic for me.  Eventually, I stopped going to church, stopped caring, and stopped believing.  I mourned for my loss of faith, but that is a story for another day that ends with the Lutheran church showing up in my life at just the right time. 
So, now I am a rather new Lutheran having joined First Trinity around three years ago.  So many of my Lutheran siblings are really excited about this reconciliation with the Catholic church.  It's easy to be wary of this reconciliation with a church that still covers up sex scandals involving children, refuses to ordain women and condemns people for who they love.  That stuff is all clear as day to me and to many others.  And, sure, I can forgive for what happened in the past but these things are still happening and I don't feel very forgiving about it.
But here is the bigger thing for me; it just feels oh-so-patriarchal.  It feels like the pope is the old father forgiving his naughty children and inviting them to come back home.  I expect that preachers will explain this action as relating this to the story of the Prodigal Son, but for me it's not a good comparison because the Lutheran church did nothing wrong.  Let me say that again, The Lutheran Church Did Nothing Wrong In Breaking From The Catholic Church. 
Luther and others worked to change the Catholic church and when it did not change, the people decided to leave, to stop giving their lunch money to a bully who refused reason.
What draws me to the Lutheran faith is the tradition of speaking up when things are wrong.  Luther defiantly nailed the 95 thesis to the door and Lutherans have continued to stand up to bullies for 499 years.  All this time the Catholic church continued to be a bully; holding power over it's members and those affected by it's decisions.  Sure, the Catholic church does a lot of good too, but I don't understand why as an institution the Catholic church cannot do good without holding power over others. 
Pope Francis has done and said some pretty radical things in his time as pope, but until the Catholic church makes some serious progress where it comes to women, sexual and gender identity, and actually doing something when their priests hurt children, I just don't care what they think.  Catholics are not standing on some moral high ground that I aspire to.  I do not want to demonize them as an institution or individuals, but I really don't care if they forgive us or not, and I think that it is up to them to change if reconciliation is to be reached. 

Recently I was in a Catholic church for my uncle's funeral.  I sang and prayed and mourned with my family, but I did not take part in communion.  When someone commented that I couldn't participate in communion at a Catholic church I replied that it didn't matter to me if I had permission or not.  Grace that is not for everyone is not grace, communion that is too good for some is not good enough for me. 
So during this year of reconciliation and celebration I won't criticize your celebrations.  Heck, I might even get swept in; I do love a party.  But I'm also going to stand up to bullies, which sometimes just means ignoring them.

Moral on a Monday

Published July 2015 at

Isaiah, Roxy and Giovanni serving sweets!
It has been my privilege over the last year to help SLCM in areas of communication and fundraising. SLCM lives out the axiom “community over charity” something that I strive to live out myself.

This week I had the pleasure of serving at South Loop Campus Ministry’s community meal, and got to bring along some pretty awesome people from my home church, First Lutheran Church of the Trinity.  Alicia, Roxy, and Elma were SLCM veterans who helped Pr. Tom really get Sunday nights going a couple of years ago.  Yami, Giovanni, Isaiah,  and Erica had not attended the meal before, but you would not have known it.  They came in like pros, bringing food and beverages, helping to set out and serve the food, and then join in the meal.  We all had a great time and appreciate the opportunity to be in community with such a lively bunch!

But… here’s the thing about that.  As most people reading this know, most of the people attending that meal are homeless.  Some of them suffer addiction and mental illness.  They depend on state funded programs to help them find shelter, food, medical care, and relief.  Some of them are students, who depend on state funded or subsidized programs to help pay or their tuition, medical care, and transportation.

I have been on the sidelines of community organizing and participating in direct actions for some time now, but this is the first issue that I have felt called to take a risk for.  Governor Rauner’s budget cuts are going to hurt my friends, neighbors and family in ways that I cannot imagine… and I am a little mad about it.

#WWJCut the first #MoralMondaysIL action
At the first #MoralMondaysIL action I participated in divine obedience (sometimes called “civil disobedience”).  Along with Pr Ben and 12 others, I was placed under arrest and issued a citation for the ironically named charge of “Failure to Exercise Due Care”.  About a month later, at the third #MoralMondaysIL action, I had planned to do divine obedience again, expecting the same citation.  However, on the morning of the action, one of the seven who intended to commit criminal trespass was unable to come, my afternoon was open, so I decided to step up and take their place.

It seemed like a good decision at the time.  As I waited to start the action my heart was beating in my throat!  I’ve never been more nervous.  The funny thing is that my previous arrest was so calm… but for this one there were only seven of us, and a small group of chanters that was instructed to leave at the first sign of police.  When they left there was a silence, and after a long, awkward pause I stared singing the only song that popped into my head, “who’s side are you on”.

I'm holding up the word "cuts".
We continued to sing as the police approached us, lined us all up and lead us to the van that eventually took us to the police station.  When we arrived at 18th and State the arresting officer explained what was going to happen and we were escorted into a holding area to be booked.

It was a crazy couple of hours.  The police did not seem to know how to book us.  I don’t know if they were training new officers, had new software or software issues… but it was an incredibly slow process.

Eventually we were brought back for fingerprints, mug shots, and put in cells.

It’s nothing like on tv.  No one read us our rights.  We were not handcuffed, in fact it felt like we probably could have just walked away at any time and no one would have cared.  The fingerprints were done on a computer and the mugshots against a grey brick wall.  There were no bars on the cells, and in fact, each cell was private.

I did not take the bologna sandwich, but I also did not take enough toilet paper.  I was in a cell for a little over 3 hours.  It was cold.  I tried to nap, mediate, dance, stretch, switched positions about 20 times.  The worst part of jail for me is that it was really boring.

While I was being processed a young black man in his 20s was also being processed.  He was a cook at a popular steakhouse who had been picked up with a dime bag of weed.  I could not help but wonder if he would even be here if he looked like me?  But he did not look like me and was going to be staying overnight in jail because his bond hearing was not until morning.

Someone had previously scratched on the wall of the cell that I was in: God Help Me I’m Scared.

I was not scared; I had no reason to be.  I am a middle aged white woman with a job, an education and a nice dress.  I grew up poor but I lucked out and somehow it was my choice, not my circumstance, that led me to be in jail that afternoon.  I was going to be out of there in a few hours and none of the police were going to give me a hard time.  I knew that and right now I think it’s important to name my privilege.

After a few hours I was given a copy of my I-Bond, instructions for my court date and was allowed to leave.  There was a team waiting for us on the outside and they had my phone and purse, a slice of pizza, and a message that my dog was fed and Bob would pick me up if I called him.

On a side note - Bob… the piano player at my church (First Lutheran Church of the Trinity) who runs a books to prisoners program and is always visiting someone in prison or picking someone up from jail.  Bob who challenges me to practice radical hospitality.  If you ever see Bob at an action, playing the sousaphone, say hello… he’s someone you should know.

Governor Rauner’s proposed budget cuts are going to kill people.  When I visited the community meal on Sunday I could not help but wonder how many of those sitting around the table would be affected by the closing of a shelter or meal program ($300,000 cut from Assistance to the Homeless).  Those who are fortunate enough to receive medical care (15% of the aid to mental health services, 23% to the AIDS Drug Assistance Program, $400 million to hospitals, $22 million from the Department of Public Health), or food stamps ($3 million from the Department of Agriculture), what’s going to happen to them?  Those who’s addictions have made them homeless ($31 million from alcohol and substance abuse programs), will they even have a chance?

Those of us who care and can need to step up and fight this.  If you are ready to get involved you are welcomed to contact me, or Pr. Ben, or just search #MoralMondaysIL and show up at the next action.  You won’t get arrested unless you choose to!

The Holy Spirit at Jackson and LaSalle

Originally posted May 2015 at

Acts 2:1–4

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

I’ve marched with the teachers and the fast food workers.  I’ve collected petitions for clean power and the 31st street bus.  I’ve met with aldermen, senators and representatives about fracking and school closures and trash cans, but I’ve never been so moved by an issue to risk my personal freedom before now.

In 2012 half of Chicago's mental health facilities were closed. Our newly elected governor proposes to cut state mental health funding by 15%. Cuts to mental health services are short sighted and result in higher rates of homelessness, more emergency room visits, and more vulnerable people dying.

I can't abide this.

So on Monday I went to Jackson and LaSalle, and joined faith leaders from across the city to ask Gov. Rauner, "What Would Jesus Cut?" With 12 others I chose to engage in civil disobedience and was arrested.  

I have never been more sure of anything in my life.  I am the sort of person who plans, and plans for everything.  I started that day realizing that there was no way that I could predict what would happen.  I left my purse and phone behind and pinned a change purse with my ID to my dress.  

Let’s talk about the dress for a moment; completely impractical choice of clothing.  However, it was important to me that if I was going to do this I had to do it as myself.  So I wore a dress and my usual Birkenstock sandals, also impractical, and I pinned my ID to my dress and without a phone, or money, or any idea of how the day would go I went into a situation that was so out of character for me, and I did it with complete confidence; the sort of confidence that comes from doing something that you know is right.

The action went like most actions do.  People gathered and chanted. There were speakers.  Then those of us who had planned to do civil disobedience took the table representing hoarded wealth, and the divide between rich and poor, and flipped it over in the street.  We sat around the table as Drew Rindfleish lead the crowd in chants and song. 
there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting
I had anticipated fear but it never came.  I felt connected to the crowd on the street in a way that I don’t think I can explain.  It was their voices that comforted me and gave me the strength to stay put.  The confidence I had started with that morning turned into a different sort of confidence; the sort of confidence that comes from knowing that you are part of something bigger than yourself.

One of our God’s Closet regulars came with us.  She is a homeless woman who once had a job, a family, a fairly normal life.  At some point she had a mental break and lost her job, her family, her normal life, and became homeless.  I saw her singing and dancing with the crowd,  her passion, singing “who’s side are you on…” I could feel.

I looked at the others sitting in the circle, I did not see ego, I did not see fear.  I saw 12 powerful, confident people.  Like me they appeared to be getting their power and confidence from the crowd.  And when the police came they all answered the questions the same way:

Do you know that you could walk away right now and avoid arrest?  Yes.
Is anyone forcing you to be here? No.
Is it your intention to be arrested today? Yes.
Please stand up so that we can place you under arrest.

And calmly, one by one we stood and went with the police to be issued tickets for “Failure to exercise due care.” They informed us of our court date, and allowed us to go.  A couple of the cops thanked us for being there.  These cuts are hurting them too.  

All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

So, what is the result?  The television news included a clip of Rev. Straight making a statement that not enough of our neighbors have heard, “two-thirds of Illinois corporations do not pay any state income tax.” Friends, some who normally don’t care much for politics, saw me on the news, or saw my arrest photo on Facebook and I had the opportunity to tell them, and for them to really listen, as I explained why I was there. 

Later the fear came.  I sincerely hope that I never have to do this again, but I fear that I will.  Not because I fear the sacrifice of my freedom but because I fear that these cuts will be enacted and people will die.  

Like I said before, I can’t abide that.  

Pictured: Pr. Tom Gaulke, Brianna Tong, Rene Paquin, Rev. Victor Corriano, Pr. Ben Adams, Francisco Herrera, Rev.  Rachel Weasley, Will Tanzman, Melissa Rubio, Ruby Pinto, Eli Namay, Catherine Buntin, Rev. Charles Straight

Of Protestants, Protesters, and PB&J

Originally posed December 2012 on

Of Protestants, Protesters, and PB&J -Rene Paquin
Two kinds of gratitude: The sudden kind we feel for what we take; the larger kind we feel for what we give. ~Edwin Arlington Robinson
When I came to this neighborhood, Bridgeport welcomed me.  Over the last year, members of  First Trinity have treated me like I was family, though I am not a member and had never been to worship.  So when I had the opportunity to join Pastor Tom in welcoming the NATO protesters, I had to be there.  Officially I welcomed them as a representative of Bridgeport Alliance, but in reality, I was there because it felt right.

"With Christ, we testify that violence is not the way to peace."

Then they arrived.  Tired, hungry and a little smelly.  They were exhausted from a day of travel, protesting and walking the 4 miles from Grant Park.  They were happy to sign the peace agreement that Tom had written.  They piled wearily into the chapel where we had introductions, learned the rules and welcomed our guests.   More than a few of the travelers asked me if there was any food, so we feasted on a dinner of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and potato chips. They were so grateful, one might have thought that I had presented them with a thanksgiving dinner.  
The thing is, for me, it was a time of thanksgiving.  After the FTP march that had taken place on the previous Tuesday, I was scared.  As a person who dedicates a great deal of my time to enacting positive change, I was scared that a small group of anarchists had reversed all of the good work that Bridgeport Alliance had done.  I wanted these protesters to come to our neighborhood, and I wanted to be able to hold them up as an example of the fact that most of the protesters want peace.  They want to have their voices heard and improve the world.  
When the travelers arrived on Friday night there was a concert going on upstairs.  There would be another concert on Saturday, a quinceaƱera, and an art show.  Sunday there would be three worship services, and the church's voters meeting.  In other words, it was a busy weekend!  The people hosting the concert allowed all of the occupiers to attend for no charge.  We gave them access to God's Closet where many of them found a clean t-shirt, something warm to sleep in and maybe even a book or two.  They thanked us at every turn.  

"...welcome organizers, protesters, and activists as a part of Christ's ministry at First Trinity in Chicago. "

Many of these people came with no money, no change of clothes, no bedroll.  It seemed that they had been given the impression that once they arrived in Chicago everything that they needed would be provided for them.   They were given sanctuary at First Trinity only to have some of their sense of safety taken on when they woke up with cameras pointed at them on Saturday morning.  The media came, and one channel decided that entering the church and filming sleeping protesters would make good B-roll.  I spoke with the camera crews and reporters who were there and explained that I did not want them to cause our neighbors any distress and that I would appreciate it if they left.  One of the reporters told me, "You're hosting protesters.  You have to expect this."  
That's fair.  I did expect some of it. But what I did not expect was the amount of respect that the protesters showed the church and the neighborhood.  When they walked to the church they broke up into small groups to avoid causing alarm to anyone who may have seen them.  They cleaned up after themselves and the concert goers who left beer bottles around the parking lot.  One young man, eating a banana that we had provided, tried to hand me $5.  I told him that their gratitude and respect for our neighbors was enough, and I meant it.  
I enjoyed their stories, I relished their enthusiasm and even though I did not agree with all of the things that they are protesting, I appreciate that they are fighting for all of us.

"Here I Stand
I can do no other"

It's no coincidence that I attended worship services at Trinity for the first time on NATO weekend.  I spend time at the church, but I am not a christian.  Pastor Tom told the guests, "You don't have to be christian to stay here, you just have to be peaceful."  I was inspired by Pastor Tom's openness to attend church services this weekend, for the first time in many years.  I wanted to see what it was all about.  I am glad that I did.  
One of the guests who had come from Oregon told Pastor Tom and I that, "I gotta tell the churches back home, they're not doing it right."  I can't speak for other churches, but I do know that Trinity is doing it right.  You have created a church that acts as a center for the community, and offers sanctuary to lowly, the poor, the peacemakers, and the persecuted ... and even a cynic like me.